Disclaimer: Not mine!
Summary: Some good deeds don't always feel so good.
Author's Note: Yeah, I know, it's been awhile. This story is a quick little 'real life' story. This actually happened to me on the way to work this morning, and I realized that I was way more affected by this than I should have been, so (of course) I went ahead and put it all down in a story to sort it through my jumbled brain.
One Good Turn
Charlie glanced up at the slowly lightening sky as he opened his car door and slid into the driver's seat. Pale purples and pinks were beginning to stretch across the bluish-black sky like paint on a canvas. A cool breeze swept through the air, ruffling Charlie's dark curls as he pulled his door closed and started the engine.
The neighborhood around him was just beginning to wake up as he drove down the street, heading to the school. Careful to keep most of his attention on the road before him, Charlie cast part of his mind over his plans for the day. A few classes to teach, meetings with a couple other professors, lunch with Larry and Amita . . .
A strange shape in the road ahead drew his full attention back to the present. It was too light for street lights, but the sun hadn't risen high enough above the trees and buildings for Charlie to be able to make out what it was. Seeing that he was the only driver around, he steered his car over to the left side of the road, avoiding whatever it was. As he passed, he thought he glimpsed a pair of long ears and a small head turning to watch him drive by.
Plans forgotten, Charlie frowned. Was that a rabbit? Was it injured? Was it still alive? Maybe it had been litter, stuck to the ground and gently blowing in the breeze his car had created as it went by. More questions and theories chased each other around Charlie's mind, but a strange feeling in his stomach told him to turn back and check. Just to be sure.
You'll be late for work, and it'll be a piece of newspaper, a small voice in his head told him.
But what if it isn't? Charlie asked back. What if it really is a rabbit? It might need my help.
You'll be late and you'll feel foolish, the voice taunted him. Just keep going.
Charlie slowed his car down at the stop sign, then hung his head. He couldn't go to work. He'd wonder all day if he had been right. Besides; between feeling foolish over stopping to help a piece of litter and helping an injured animal, Charlie figured he could live with feeling foolish.
Glancing around to see if there were any cars around, Charlie turned his car around in a tight U-turn and headed back up the road. As he neared the strange shape, he slowed and stopped on the side of the road to get a better look. His heart fluttered in his chest at what he saw.
It was indeed a rabbit. And it was alive.
Charlie turned on his hazard lights and left his car to get a better look.
The rabbit had been nicked by a car. The force of the blow had torn most of the fur off of its back, but there was very little blood. Its head was twisting in different directions, clearly frightened.
"Oh, God . . ." Charlie hurried back to his car and pulled out a windbreaker he had left in there a few days ago. Glancing around for any other cars, he opened his jacket and approached the rabbit.
The rabbit, seeing Charlie, began to try and escape. Its hind legs were injured; whether they were broke or the rabbit was paralyzed, Charlie wasn't sure. He felt his heart twist as it tried to pull itself away to the other side of the road, using only its two front legs.
"Shh, shh," Charlie soothed. "It's okay. I won't hurt you." He placed the jacket on the rabbit, then gently scooped it up into his arms. The small creature struggled only briefly, then settled into Charlie' protective embrace, trembling. Whether from fear or pain, Charlie didn't know, but he could feel the rabbit's tremors against his body, making his own hands shake in response.
It was awkward getting back into the car one-handed, but Charlie managed. He sat still, looking down at the poor rabbit, and realized that he didn't know of any shelters or clinics nearby. Pulling out his cell phone, he dialed Larry.
"Hello?" came Larry's distracted voice.
"Larry, it's me, Charlie," Charlie answered. He heard his own voice shake slightly, and he cleared his throat. Why was he upset? It was just a wild rabbit. "Do you know where the nearest vet clinic is?"
He could practically see Larry's confusion over the connection. "Er . . . no . . . why?"
"I found a rabbit lying in the road on the way to the school," Charlie told him. He glanced down at the rabbit, sitting rather docilely in his arms. "He's been hit by a car. I couldn't just leave him there. Where can I take him?"
"Oh . . . sorry, Charles, but I don't know," Larry answered. "I wish I did, but the only one I know of is that clinic we took Professor Harding's cat to last year."
"Yeah, I was afraid of that," Charlie said. "Look, I don't know if I'll make it in time for my first class. Could you find someone to cover me, just in case? I'm going to try to get it over there."
"Sure, no problem, Charles," Larry agreed.
Charlie shut his phone and tossed it onto the passenger seat. Winding the seat belt around his arm, he switched off his hazard lights and pulled back onto the road.
The clinic wasn't too far; about twenty minutes away, with Charlie pushing all the speed limits. Driving with only one hand was hard enough, but Charlie was afraid that if he put the rabbit down it would try to move and hurt itself some more. Instead of taking the busier roads, he kept to back roads, just to be safer.
Charlie breathed a sigh of relief when the clinic came into view. "Just a little longer, buddy. In just a few minutes, you'll be okay."
As much as he didn't want to admit it, Charlie knew that the odds of this rabbit surviving to the end of the day were not that good. Numbers and calculations flew through his mind, but for once he ignored them, focused on the small, trembling life he held cradled in his arms.
A nurse was unlocking the door as he hurried up. He smiled a thank you as she held open the door for him and followed him into the empty clinic.
"What've you got there?" she asked.
Charlie managed to stammer out the story once more, feeling himself start to shiver slightly. He attributed the reaction to the rabbit's renewed shaking and turned his arms to give the nurse a better look at him.
"Is that a rabbit?" the nurse asked. "We don't take rabbits."
"I know, but I didn't know where else to go," Charlie replied. "He's hurt. Isn't there anything you can do?"
The nurse examined his expression. "And this is a wild animal? Not your pet?"
"Let me go talk to the vet and see what we can do," the nurse told him. "Honestly, though, the best we may be able to do is put it down humanely."
Charlie nodded again, numbly, as the nurse disappeared through the door into the exam room. Left alone with the rabbit, Charlie looked down at him. He saw clearly now the peppery brown fur, the big black eyes, and the little nose sniffing the air anxiously. "Won't be long now," he said softly.
The nurse returned, this time with a large striped towel spread over her arms. "We'll go ahead and see what we can do," she said, spreading the towel on the counter. "Go ahead and put him here."
Charlie walked over to the counter. "Er . . . the car . . . it pulled back some of its skin . . ."
The nurse pulled the windbreaker aside and gripped the rabbit firmly by the back of its neck. The rabbit began to quake at being tugged from Charlie's warm and safe arms, but the nurse cooed at it softly, pulling it onto the towel. Charlie stood there, only remembering to pull his windbreaker aside when the nurse asked him to. He watched the nurse wrap up the small rabbit and lift it into her arms. She carried it to the door, but paused and turned back to Charlie.
"Thank you for bringing it in," she said. "Even if we can't save it, at least it won't have to suffer."
Charlie could only nod as she disappeared through the door.
" . . . and don't forget to go over the last chapter for the quiz tomorrow!" Charlie called after his retreating students. Smiling faintly, he ducked his head and began to gather his books and papers.
Charlie glanced up and smiled at Larry. "Hey, Larry, thanks again for helping me out. I made it just in time for class this morning."
Larry waved a hand. "Oh, yeah, sure, no problem. What did the vet say?"
Charlie felt a strange tightening sensation in his stomach, but he ignored it. "Um . . . they said they'd try, but they'd probably put it down. I was going to call to see what they decided."
Larry raised an eyebrow. "And this is a wild animal, right? Not a pet?"
Charlie sighed. "Yeah, Larry, it's wild. But, I don't know . . . it was so small, and when I saw it try to get away from me this morning . . . I felt so bad for it. I'd just like to know, for my own peace of mind."
"Do you mind if I accompany you?" Larry asked. "I admit to some curiosity myself on the subject."
"Sure," Charlie answered. He scooped up his many books and headed out of the classroom and down the hall to his office. Once Larry had opened his door for him, Charlie dumped his books onto a table and went to his phone. Pulling out the phone book, he quickly looked up the number and dialed.
Larry watched Charlie's expression as the younger man spoke with several people on the line. As Charlie told his story from that morning to the receptionist on the line, Larry marveled at what Charlie had done. He wondered himself if he would have done the same thing, if faced with a similar situation.
"Oh. Okay, thank you so much for your help."
Charlie gently placed the phone back on its cradle and looked up at Larry. There was a strange look in his brown eyes. "They had to put it down. It was hurt too bad."
"Oh, Charles, I'm sorry," Larry said softly.
Charlie shrugged. "It wasn't even a pet. It was wild."
"At least you know now that it won't suffer," Larry told him. "You did the right thing."
Charlie nodded, distant. "Yeah," he replied quietly. He looked out the window, then turned back to Larry. "I know. I just . . . I didn't expect to feel so . . ."
"Affected?" Larry guessed.
Larry eased into a chair across from Charlie. "Well, Charles, I'm not that surprised. Whenever someone performs an act of kindness towards another person or even an animal, a certain bond is formed. You cared enough to stop and help; it only makes sense you would care enough to see it through to the end."
Charlie nodded again, then looked down. "I, um . . . I'm going to prepare for my next class. See you at lunch?"
Larry nodded, taking note of the grief hidden in Charlie's eyes. He stood and bid his friend farewell. He had a call of his own to make.
Don pulled into a parking spot near his brother's car and shut off the engine. He knew Charlie wasn't expecting him, knew he didn't have any cases for Charlie to look over, but Larry's phone call that morning had been rather informative.
As Don headed down the sidewalk that led to the building where Charlie worked, Don let his mind wander over his little brother. When he had heard about Charlie's good deed that morning, his initial feeling had been one of pride. He knew that most people would have left the rabbit in the road until another car came to finish it off. It was just another example of Charlie's big heart.
That thought had immediately led to worry for his brother. Charlie had been so sheltered growing up, and one result of that had been his inability to successfully cope with failure. Even though no one would ever think that Charlie's actions had been a failure, Don knew his brother too much to think that Charlie believed otherwise.
He was glad Larry had called him, even though it was early afternoon before he could get away. He knew that Charlie would be grieving over the loss of the rabbit. Maybe not to the level of grief he would have experienced with a pet, or a loved one, but a small feeling nonetheless. Those two combinations in his little brother were bad news, but Don had an idea that might just help Charlie.
Charlie was bent over his desk, hard at work scribbling away in his notebook. Though he didn't appear to be all that different to the casual observer, Don knew better. The tense shoulders, the fierce concentration; classic signs that his brother was unsettled.
"Hey," Don said, walking into the office.
Charlie's head snapped up. "Don! Hey! What are you doing here?"
Don shrugged. "Heard about what happened this morning. How're you feeling?"
Charlie shrugged back. "Fine. Why wouldn't I?"
"Because I know you," Don shot back. "Listen, you got time?"
Charlie glanced down at his notebook, then nodded. "Sure, what's up? New case?"
"Not exactly," Don answered. He walked over to his brother and, gripping his arm, pulled him out of his chair and led him out of the room.
"Not exactly?" Charlie echoed, confused. "What do you mean? Where are we going?"
"Out," Don answered cryptically."
"Out?" Charlie repeated. He squinted at his brother as they moved into the bright sunshine. "But . . . I have classes . . . meetings . . ."
"Larry took care of all that," Don told him. "This is important."
"Oh." Charlie allowed himself to be pulled to Don's car without further questioning.
The two were silent as Don navigated the busy streets, taking Charlie to a part of the neighborhood he hadn't been to in a long time. He frowned in confusion as Don pulled to a stop in front of a pet store. "Uh, Don?"
"Yeah, Buddy?" Don asked, hopping out.
Charlie exited as well, but more cautiously. "What's so important in a pet store? Is this a case?"
Charlie's brow furrowed deeper as he tried to puzzle out the mystery. Don shook his head and, coming around the car, took Charlie's arm and pulled him into the shop. "Quit trying to figure it out and come on. You'll find out soon enough."
A bell tinkled in the air as they pushed the door open. The smell of dry food, water, bird droppings, and straw greeted them. Don waved hello to the cashier and led Charlie to the back of the store, near the fish tanks, where there stood a large, round table with walls of glass covered with straw. There were several small, furry lumps crowded together in one spot, uninterested in the food dishes or the small toys that littered the area. As they drew closer, Charlie saw that the furry lumps were, in fact, rabbits.
Charlie stopped cold, turning demanding eyes on his brother. Don, startled at the sudden lack in movement, turned back to Charlie. "You coming?"
"What are we doing here, Don?" Charlie wanted to know.
Don sighed. "Look, it's nothing big. I'm not asking you to take one home or anything. I know you're feeling . . . well, a little depressed about this morning. It didn't work out the way you had hoped. There's nothing you or anyone else could have done for it, but there is something I can do for you."
"What?" Charlie asked suspiciously.
Don shrugged. "Let's go help feed the rabbits."
Charlie's mouth opened in astonishment as Don turned and scooped a white rabbit with brown patches into one hand and began to pet it. He saw its little nose sniff eagerly at the pellet Don had taken from one of the food dishes, and he felt his heart twinge at the sight.
Don glanced up at him. "C'mon, Buddy. Try it."
Charlie took a hesitant step forward, then another, then another until finally he was near enough to touch the rabbits. His eyes passed over each one nervously before falling on one rabbit on the edge of the huddle. Its fur was a darker brown than the one from this morning, and it had a white streak on its back, but there was something about its eyes that drew Charlie closer. He reached his hands down to the rabbit, paused, then very carefully lifted the rabbit out of the display.
It wriggled at the sudden contact, and Charlie had to move quickly to tuck it close to his side before it escaped from his hands. He felt the warmth of the rabbit's body against his chest, felt its small body almost purring against him, and a slow smile spread across his face.
Don passed him a pellet from the food dish, and Charlie held it out for the rabbit. The rabbit sniffed it curiously, then began to nibble on one end. As Charlie watched it eat the pellet, he felt something loosen in his chest. He lifted his eyes to Don and realized that his brother had been right after all.
"Thanks, Don," he said softly.
Don smiled fondly at him. "You know what they say. One good turn deserves another. You did good, Charlie. I'm proud of you."
Charlie felt warmth envelope him from his brother's words, and he ducked his head bashfully. He turned his attention to the rabbit in his arms and reached for another pellet.
Author's Notes, cont'd: Okay, so you may be thinking 'why the attachment to a wild animal?' I honestly don't know. I just know that, for some reason, this rabbit not making it really bothered me. I really wanted to go and do what Don made Charlie do, but instead I chose to write. It's a lot more cathartic for me anyway. Sorry it wasn't very bright, but I wasn't in a very bright mood. Hope you enjoyed the piece, though. Thanks for reading.